I love Scrum, but I hate “doing Scrum” at conferences.

Stacey Christiansen
Jan 28 · 4 min read
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Photo by The Climate Reality Project on Unsplash

I really love to learn. Most anything. Give me an interesting topic and I’m all in. Google, YouTube, Kindle, NetFlix — I’ll get obsessed about it and dive in headfirst. So, not surprisingly, I enjoy going to conferences and seminars.

Early in my Scrum learning, I used my pro dev budget on certification courses. After I earned my new certification credentials and added all the initials to my LinkedIn profile, I began attending conferences and seminars. You know what I’m talking about — a couple of keynote speakers and then various breakout sessions over a few days. I was ready to get my Scrum on!

I walked into the first breakout session of the first day of the first conference I attended. The speaker was in the front of the room pulling out sticky notes and Sharpies and arranging them on the table. I thought it was odd, but hey, I’m up for an unusual presentation. I grabbed a seat in front. Bring it on!

Oh, stupid, stupid me.

After the intro, the speaker did the unthinkable. He asked the room full of strangers to break up into groups of 6 or 7 and run a mock sprint with our “team”. Shoot me now. Worse yet, I was in the front row. I had nowhere to run.

I understand the speaker’s intent. A lot of Scrum teams use physical or digital sticky notes to create tasks or user stories, and then move the items to swim lanes or status columns. I get it. But at a conference? With a bunch of people who don’t know each other??

Let point out a few reasons why this is a bad idea.

There isn’t enough time.

Breakout sessions are typically 45–50 minutes long. If you have a 10-minute intro, a 5-minute conclusion, and 5 minutes for questions, that only leaves 25–30 minutes for the mock sprints. Take another 5–7 minutes out of that to get the teams formed, make introductions, and actually start doing something — you’ve got about 20 minutes. It just doesn’t work.

A half- or full-day session is a better format for role-playing and mock sprints.

It shows the processes and techniques Scrum teams use in the worst possible light.

Especially when the attendees aren’t experienced at Scrum or these processes, expecting any significant learning is unrealistic. Think back to your first Scrum team, with a new company, in your first sprint. I bet it was a cluster. It’s supposed to be! You’re all doing something completely new and trying to learn as you go along. Learning is messy.

Even if you’re experienced in agile processes, you’re fumbling around because you're with a brand new team. Remember Tuckman’s “forming, storming, norming, & performing”? Forming isn’t the pretty part, and in groups like these — sometimes they jump right to storming. How does this present Scrum well??

I’m an introvert. And I’m not the only one in the room.

I’m an introvert and I work in tech. There are a lot of us in tech. Not everyone, but I can tell you I’ve been at my company almost two years now and there are a handful of folks I see every day that have yet to make eye contact with me.

Now the presenter has trapped us introverts in a conference room and forced us to have person-to-person conversations with a group of strangers! It’s so incredibly awkward and uncomfortable, I can’t even begin to tell you.

Don’t get me wrong — introverts can be great team members…. once they get to know you. But, please, if you’re going to use this format, add it to your topic description so I can find another breakout session to attend.


Here’s the Retro

What to keep doing? Attend conferences. I always learn something.
What to stop doing? No more sitting in the front of the room.
What to start doing? Arrive early, scan the front of the room for sticky notes, and find a seat nearest to the door.

Should the dreaded role-playing activities rear their ugly head in my chosen breakout session of the future, I have an exit strategy.

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Thanks to Rohit Ratan Mani

Stacey Christiansen

Written by

Former leader in software dev, ecommerce. Lifelong learner. Writer of whatever moves me.

Serious Scrum

Content by and for Scrum Practitioners.

Stacey Christiansen

Written by

Former leader in software dev, ecommerce. Lifelong learner. Writer of whatever moves me.

Serious Scrum

Content by and for Scrum Practitioners.

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